The Psychology of Empathy

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Empathy is delivering someone else’s baby, metaphorically speaking. You are not delivering a baby in real but you are imagining, visualizing and feeling that the miracle is happening by you. Psychologists cannot deliver… I mean, they cannot tackle and seek a good amount of cooperation from their Clients unless they feel that they can have the water break at any time. So it is a good technique to understand your clients and is a remarkable push for the therapist to solve the unsolvable maze with a blindfold.

What is Empathy then? Delivering a baby?

It is an ability to understand and feel what another person is feeling, not in a physical sense, but in an emotional sense. Imagining oneself in another’s place and understand the feelings, desires, ideas and actions of others. The expression “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is actually a description of empathy, but one must not forget as well that those shoes are not theirs. Therapists are usually trained to be more empathetic so that they can have more of an appreciation for what their clients are experiencing. This helps them understand their client’s situation, perspective, and problems much better. The use of empathy is an important part of the counseling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.

Talking about Carl Rogers remind me of the course we had in our third semester i.e. “Theories of Personality”. Throughout the course what I observed was that all these Personality theorists/ psychologists gave all theories based on what happened with them during their childhood and how their personality developed. One question that always used to dance in my factory of concern was that if every psychologist had some issues in their life? Was that something mandatory to have to be a successful psychologist?

It’s not easy giving a personal interview to your teacher. I remember we had our interview session with one of our teachers who in the end stated: “Throughout the interviews I noticed one thing that almost everyone in your class has some issues and I believe that is the reason why they are in this field, to understand and change themselves.” She did not belong to our department and I was really fascinated by hearing this from her. It was the moment when I realized I was on the right track.

I am a person who always thinks rationally but my emotions do try to interfere in the process of my decision making. At that moment my factory was jammed and I found her so much right because I knew what she said was true and I realized that even the reason behind me ending up in a field of Science, as I was an Arts student, was somewhat had emotional connection besides my rational thinking. Following were the questions that popped up in my mind: “So being in some tight shoes before someone else wear those shoes was necessary so you know the discomfort and guide someone else to buy new one? Was that a skill needed for being a good psychologist by Nature? Does being in those shoes help you understand your Clients better and so it is necessary to wear them before they do?”

I planned to find my answers and to restart my factory by asking one of my most warm and welcoming course instructor, Ms.Sousan Siddiqui. I don’t think if anyone could answer it so beautifully the way she did and that is what she uttered amazingly:

In my opinion, yes it is definitely required! Because empathy is the ESSENCE of psychology so unless you’re able to walk into another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective and see the world from their frame of reference, how can you be a good psychologist? I think when people themselves go through some problems and then find a way out is then that they realize that they’ll be able to help other people with similar issues. And that is when empathy is born which happens to be a crucial element of all therapy… Like, for example, have you noticed that the greatest poetry has been written by the writers who were suffering from depression? So it’s kind of like beautiful things are born out of darkness. Like a diamond is made from coal. The same is true for the psychologists I think.

So here comes the empathy of Psychologists, none other than from themselves. Suppose a cardiologist gets a heart attack accidentally, it is absolutely normal for people and one will not say that people who study cardiology gets a heart attack. But if a psychologist goes through depression or any psychological disorder then it means that psychologists are not normal. People who believe in the stigma and the misconception that Psychologists themselves turn into psychos during the process of treating special people or what they call Mental/abnormal/psychos, now must know that it is the empathy that our Clients demand and that we are Homo Sapiens with equal flesh and bones.

I got new shoes

Tight and uncomfortable

Therefore, I whine and complain

No matter if I sound insane.

The pain is as old as the hills

Wish I could swallow those pills

and make an end to my agony

getting rid of those shoes.

They don’t feel the strain

So they must refrain

from throwing a spot light

as they self abstain…

whose shoes are tighter than mine

yet look nice but not as the one I have.

Oh don’t get deceived!

Oh don’t be ungrateful!

Just put one step in forth

and you’ll cherish your walk.

Look deep, look around

Tell me what to you astound

when you try my shoes

And walk in them?

~ Azka Imran ~

20/5/2014